For more than 25 years, the IRS denied tax-exemption to the Church of Scientology. The long-running policy flowed from an IRS determination in 1967 that Scientology was in fact a commercial entity operated solely for the benefit of founder L. Ron Hubbard.
In 1993, seven years after Hubbard's death, the IRS made a puzzling and highly suspicious reversal. It settled its tax bill with Scientology for just $12.5 million and conferred on it the title of tax-exempt "religion." Both the Wall Street Journal and New York Times later broke important ground with respective reports on the secret meetings that led to the agreement, and details of Scientology's harassment of IRS officials.
Hubbard has been gone for nearly a quarter century, but the questionable practices of extracting huge fees from members, paying lip service to informed consent and employing violence, threats and unfair labor tactics to protect its interests continue today under Scientology leader David Miscavige.
And of course its roster of celebrity ambassadors -- Tom Cruise, John Travolta, Kirstie Alley and others -- continues a mission of mainstreaming the fringe thinking behind the Scientology phenomenon.
All charitable organizations are subject to regular examination and review by the IRS to ensure they are still entitled to tax exempt status. Both the IRS and the US Department of Justice have more than ample grounds to conduct respective probes of the organization's non-charitable profiteering and other abuses. Emerging stories of violence, abuse and control occurring at Scientology facilities should be enough to get the attention of Attorney General Eric Holder.
They are getting the attention of the public. On a recent CNN program, former high-ranking Scientologists Marty Rathbun and Amy Scobee detailed how Miscavige used beatings and other acts of violence to intimidate subordinates. In her recent memoir, My Billion Year Contract, Nancy Many recounts how she became near-psychotic during her 27 years as a high-level Scientologist.
Marc Headley, once an elite member, earned a paltry 39 cents an hour when he was assigned to Scientology's multimedia operation. He earned more in his first year outside of Scientology than during the 15 years he was a member.
These brave folks are not the first to tell the truth about Scientology.
Ex-Scientologist and Hubbard biography researcher Gerry Armstrong was harassed and persecuted for more than 25 years for speaking out about the organization. Among the various positions Armstrong held during his dozen years as a Scientologist was that of intelligence and public relations officer for the Sea Organization, Scientology's "elite" pseudo-military management group. In 1982, Scientology sued him. Ironically, it was this lawsuit that exposed the "church" for what it really is.
"Scientology is nothing in reality but a vast enterprise to extract the maximum amount of money from its adepts by pseudo scientific theories ... and to exercise a kind of blackmail against persons who do not wish to continue with their sect," wrote California Superior Court Judge Paul G. Breckenridge, Jr.
"In addition to violating and abusing its own members' civil rights, the organization over the years ... has harassed and abused those persons not in [Scientology] whom it perceives as enemies. The organization clearly is schizophrenic and paranoid, and this bizarre combination seems to be a reflection of its founder."
On civil rights alone Scientology's track record is abysmal, having long ago met the threshold for violation of federal "Title 18" statutes.
A legitimate religious organization does not use physical, mental, emotional and financial abuse to maintain membership. Nor does it function as a conspiracy to threaten and intimidate others. A valid religion informs people of church doctrine and beliefs before they make a commitment to join. A religious group with even the most basic ethics does not use its constituents as slave labor to reproduce and perpetuate its teachings.
It's pretty simple. American tax codes are wrongly benefiting and empowering the unethical, potentially illegal, and most assuredly uncharitable activities of an organization using "religion" as a cloak.
Follow Steven Hassan on Twitter: www.twitter.com/cultexpert